When word started spreading in 2017 that a young, two-way phenom from Japan wanted to make the jump to Major League Baseball, skepticism ran high. The last player to hit and pitch at an elite level was Babe Ruth. The idea that an athlete could accomplish the feat in the 21st century was unthinkable.
Jump forward to 2022 and Shohei Ohtani — the reigning American League Most Valuable Player — is the face of baseball and MLB The Show 22’s cover star, a deserving honour for a once-in-a-generation player who has changed the sport, and baseball gaming, forever.
Each season, the process of choosing a cover athlete for MLB The Show usually comes down to two or three possible candidates. After Ohtani turned in one of the most remarkable seasons in baseball history in 2021, the decision to put Ohtani on the cover was easy.
“Ohtani made it so that he was the only choice,” said Ramone Russell, Product Development Communications and Brand Strategist for San Diego Studio.
The 27-year-old Ohtani hit 46 home runs and was an ace on the mound, registering a 3.18 ERA across 23 starts for the Angels, an unthinkable accomplishment in the analytics era where hitting and pitching techniques are so specialized.
“The fact that he was a legitimate ace and was a legitimate threat at the plate every single time, just made it so much more grand,” Russell said. “He had the greatest season in baseball history, period. No one can argue that point.”
Saying Ohtani changed baseball gaming forever is not an exaggeration.
Prior to the two-way superstar’s transcendent rise, MLB The Show players could choose to craft their in-game ballplayers as hitters or pitchers, not both. The same was true when Ohtani first arrived in MLB The Show in 2018 — the game was simply not set up to accommodate a player dominating on both sides of the ball.
“The game at the time had no concept of a two-way player. You either pitched or you hit,” Russell said. “So, when Ohtani came over and signed with the Angels, a lot of new code had to be written. And it took us two or three years to get it right.”
Now, thanks to the multi-year efforts of MLB The Show 22’s programmers, Ohtani can be deployed the same way the Los Angeles Angels use him on the diamond — as both an ace on the mound and a fearsome slugger at the plate.
MLB The Show 22’s MVP and Deluxe Editions feature some of the most unique art to don a sports title’s cover. Drawn in the Japanese manga style, the collector’s editions show an illustrated Ohtani engrossed in a blaze of yellow and red fire. He is holding a flaming bat and tossing an ablaze baseball, a clear nod to his dual-threat ability.
Ohtani is an avid fan of manga and anime dating back to his high school days.
“There was actually a manga that inspired him in high school and increased his love of baseball,” Russell said. “It really made him want to pursue being a two-way player even more and make it to the Major Leagues.”
After learning of Ohtani’s affinity for manga, San Diego Studio teamed with acclaimed manga artist Takashi Okazaki to craft the cover.
“Okazaki happens to be a big Shohei Ohtani fan so we reached out to him. He was super excited to be involved with the project,” Russell said. “We spent about five and a half, six months just working on different revisions with Takashi and he really nailed it.”
On the cover, Ohtani is wearing a torn-open Angels kimono, revealing his Angels jersey logo across his chest beneath in a classic superhero pose.
“We wanted to make Shohei Ohtani look superhuman because he is in real life,” Russell said. “What he’s doing on the baseball field is superhuman. We’ve never really seen anybody do it like this before.”
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